As a connoisseur of all things sweet—well, not licorice, that is only fit for rats and other vermin—I wanted to impart my wisdom on the proper service of one of the most delightful delicacies of the Easter Season.
Now, along with bunny-shaped Sweet Tarts and White Chocolate—solid, not mere shells—eggs as my favorites, there is one particular delight that requires proper preparation before it can be appropriately enjoyed.
Peeps, that delectable mixture of gooey marshmallow, sugar, and food coloring, cannot be fully enjoyed right out of the package. No, no, my friend, to do so is to miss the real ecstasy of candy nirvana.
Now most people of inferior culinary taste rush to devour these yellow pieces of heaven in a fit of sugar cravings. And while they enjoy the brief sugar rush, they are missing a truly blissful candy experience.
But to enjoy this moment of elation, one must properly prepare the Peeps. This requires a minimum of three days preparation where the Peeps will sit tantalizingly near as they properly age. They will, like a Siren’s song, call to you to devour them. But be strong, my friends, and it will be worth it.
First, tear open the package. Do not use scissors or a knife as you might damage the Peeps. Tear it open like a three-year-old trying to get at a new toy. Then, exposing the Peeps to the air—and this is the tough part—place them on the counter, unconsumed, and…wait.
Be patient. Do not look at them during this process. Hold firm and on the third day they will transform—an almost transubstantiation-like effect—into something magical.
Trust me. Where some will grimace and claim the Peeps are now stale, we true connoisseurs will know, with each crunchy bite, the true meaning of Nirvana.
In keeping with an old tradition, I bring you Part 1 of the serialized story of The Day After Christmas.
Millions of years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, the Pawtucket Times would publish a story over the two weeks leading up to Christmas.
I, along with many others, anxiously awaited the arrival of each new chapter, culminating in the ending on Christmas Eve. So, over the past few years, I have started my own version beginning with today’s opening segment. We will read this story together as I have no idea where it will go or how it will end. My only advantage is I will read it as it is born, while you my dear friends, will see it just moments after its arrival.
Growing up in Cumberland, Rhode Island back then seems, at least in my memories, to have been a place of magic; making those Christmas seasons, and the spirit that infused them, all the more special.
I will just tell the story, like Charlie Brown and Linus, of something worth holding onto. Let it take us where it will…Merry Christmas!
THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS
December 26th is the slowest, and laziest, day in the North Pole. Everyone, I mean almost EVERYONE, sleeps until noon. But for one tiny—even by elf standards—elf, the day after Christmas is the busiest day of the year for her.
Emily Louise Frazier—her family is famous for growing the Frazier Pine one of the most popular Christmas trees in the world—held a critical, if almost completely unknown, position within Elfdom…she was the Monitor of the Christmas Spirit. Or as she liked to call herself, Santa’s accountant. And not just any ordinary add the numbers and balance the checkbook accountant. On no, she was the Christmas Spirit Accountant.
He job was to track the level and growth of the spirit of Christmas, for that spirit wasn’t just something one felt as Christmas day grew near. It was something that lived among the people all the year round. Bringing the joy of giving to others, the pleasure of spending time with your family, and the warmth of a good heart to all the world.
But Emily Louise Frazier was worried. More worried than she had ever been in her entire life. She stared at her little Elf laptop and shook her head. Numbers never lie. The trend was not good and now, on the day when all of Christmas Town enjoyed their one day of uninterrupted rest, she had to rouse them from their slumber and give them the bad news.
Christmas spirit was dying, a slow yet undeniable descent to a level never before seen in the history of the world and she had no idea how to fix it, or even if it could be fixed.
Making her way to the main house, she stood trembling at the door trying to force herself to ring the bell and bring such terrible news to the nicest people on the planet, Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Reaching up on her tiptoes, she managed to reach the lower of the two bells, the one placed for the elves. The opening notes of Charlie Brown’s Christmas Theme (Mrs. Claus is a big jazz music fan) echoed throughout the house.
Soon footsteps followed, coming closer, and for a moment, Emily thought of running away. But she had a responsibility and prepared herself. The door swung open and Santa and Mrs. Claus stood there, rubbing their eyes trying to focus, looking over Emily to the vast, yet sleepy town outside the door.
“Down here, Santa,” said Emily.
Santa and Mrs. Claus looked down at the now shaking little Elf.
“Emily, my dear,” said Mrs. Claus, “come inside dear, you’re freezing out there. Come in, come in.”
Emily hesitated a moment, then stepped inside. “I’m not cold, Mrs. Claus. But I have some terrible news I need to share.”
Santa closed the door behind her, then knelt down to bring his smiling face to Emily’s level.
“No worries, Emily. There’s nothing you can say that we can’t fix. Now what is so terrible that you had to wake us on our one day off?”
Emily swallowed hard, took a deep breath, then said, “Santa, I’ve been studying the charts, going over all the data, looking at the trends, and it’s clear that Christmas Spirit is in decline. The usual burst of spirit just before Christmas fizzled. I’m afraid it will fade completely over the next few months and be gone by next Christmas.”
Part II The News Spreads
“Hmm,” said Santa, “that is troubling. Are you sure?”
“Very,” said Emily.
Mrs. Claus reached for her hand. “Come dear, come sit at the table and I’ll make some hot cocoa to warm you up.”
Emily setup her laptop on the table while Santa worked at filling his pipe.
Mrs. Claus appeared within moments, carrying a tray with three cups of cocoa and a pile of cookies. She paused before she put the tray on the table and stared at Santa. Santa caught the look and put the pipe away.
Mrs. Claus smiled, then placed the tray in front of Emily. “Here you go, my dear.”
After taking a sip from the cocoa, Emily clicked a few keys then turned the laptop to face Santa and Mrs. Claus.
“What am I looking at?” asked Santa
“The first few graphs represent trends in various things, like kindness and charity. And these here represent various places, countries, cities, towns, and villages. The last graph shows a summary of the overall trends throughout the world. I compiled these graphs from a bunch of data sources that…”
Santa held up his hand and smiled. “Emily, in plain English please, I’m still a bit tired from last night.”
Emily nodded. “The world is becoming less kind, less charitable, and less happy.”
“Oh my,” said Mrs. Claus. “That’s terrible.”
Santa tapped his nose several times as he stared at the computer screen. Then, he pointed to several green dots on one graph almost lost among all the red ones.
“What are these?”
Emily smiled. “It’s the one glimmer of hope, I suppose.” She sighed. “First, I thought it was just a data error…”
Santa tilted his head to the side.
“Sorry. First, I thought I’d gotten something wrong, but I checked and rechecked and it seems there are some places in the world where everything and, it would seem, everyone is happy, kind, and charitable. And getting better every day.”
“Why is that?” said Santa
“I have no idea.”
“Well, then. There is the answer to our problem,” said Mrs. Claus.
Santa and Emily looked at Mrs. Claus.
“How is that the answer?” Santa said.
“Oh my dear, you are such a wonderful man, but sometimes a bit slow with simple solutions. If things all over the world are getting worse, except for these few places, then someone has to go there and find out why.”
She smiled and waited for him to catch on.
“It really is that simple. Go there and see why people there are so different from the rest of the world.”
Emily blinked a few times, then closed her laptop.
Santa reached for his pipe, thought better of it, than just tapped his forehead, thinking. “Emily, you and I are taking a trip.”
“Yes, we are, my dear. First thing tomorrow morning we leave for, ah, for… where are these places, anyway?
Emily started to speak, but Santa stopped her.
“Let’s keep this to ourselves for the time being. No need for any rumors to get started. You know how the elves and reindeer love to gossip, and I don’t want anyone to be worried until we sort this out. You can tell me in the morning and program it into the GSP thingy the Elf flight director put on my sleigh.”
“GSP?” said Emily.
“GPS, my dear,” said Mrs. Claus, “GPS.”
The three of them stood up and headed toward the door.
“You go pack, Emily,” said Santa. “But keep this to yourself for now. I’ll tell the flight crew I want to take the sleigh out for a little spin tomorrow, just to try out some new flight tricks. Meanwhile…” Santa placed his finger over his lips. “Shhh, mums the word.”
As Santa reached for the door handle, Mrs. Claus knelt down and gave Emily a kiss on the forehead.
“Don’t worry, my dear. We’ll find the answer. I am sure of it.”
With that, Santa slowly opened the door, hoping no one had seen or heard anything. But they were all shocked to see the entire town gathered outside.
Mrs. Claus laughed. “There are no secrets here, my dear, no secrets.”
Part IIIA Journey of Discovery
Early the next morning, Emily was up, dressed, and wearing her backpack as she waited for Santa to arrive. She wondered how they would ever figure out why some places still held the Christmas spirit while others seemed to have lost it.
I hope I can be a help to Santa, but I’m not sure I’m cut out for adventure. As these thoughts percolated in her mind, a voice called out to her.
“Emily, time to go.”
The voice was familiar, of course. Everyone here in Christmas Town was familiar, but it was not the voice she expected. Glancing out her window, she saw the team of reindeer pawing at the ground, eager to fly—reindeer never tire of flying.
She saw the sleigh with its new all-season covering for flying on days other than Christmas—Santa preferred to fly in the traditional way on Christmas Eve.
But it’s who she saw driving that surprised her. Sitting up front in the driver’s seat was Mrs. Claus.
Emily ran outside, threw her backpack into the sleigh, and climbed aboard.
Mrs. Claus smiled. “Santa does a wonderful job delivering presents. He’s marvelous at it. But for other things… let’s just say you and I are better suited to handle this than he is.”
“But I thought Santa managed everything.”
“Santa, my dear, is the face of the organization, but it’s all the elves and I who make the whole thing work. Now, are you ready for the first stop?”
“Yes, Mrs. Claus, I’m ready.”
“Okay, but there is one more thing you need to do before we takeoff.”
“What’s that?” Emily said.
“You need to call me Emma,” said Mrs. Claus, with a bit of a twinkle in her eye. “It’s short for Emily.”
Emily’s eyes grew wide. “You’re named Emily too?”
“Of course, my dear. And I’ll let you in on another secret.” She leaned over and whispered in Emily’s ear. “And my name before I married Santa was Frazier.”
Emily’s eyes grew twice as wide. “We’re related?”
Emily Frazier Claus smiled. “Not only related, my dear, but I am your great, great, great times one hundred great grandmother. And it’s time for the Frazier women to get to the bottom of this problem. We’ve been doing troubleshooting for years, keeping Santa on his toes. There’s nothing we can’t do; if we set our minds to it.”
She reached over and pulled Emily close to her. “Ready?”
“Ready Mrs.… I mean Emma.” With that, Emily punched the information into the GPS, then snuggled back next to Emma. I haven’t even left yet, and I already uncovered one surprise. I wonder what else I might discover.
In a flash, the reindeer leapt into the sky and they were off…
Part IV: The First Secret
“So, where are we off to first?” said Emma.
Emily reached toward the GPS and enlarged the view. “It’s a small village in the Austrian Alps called Erinnerung Dorf. I think I said that correctly.”
“You did, my dear, sounds German.”
Emma guided the reindeer as they descended into the cold, quiet village. The deserted streets seemed sad and lonely. Snow swirled in the air. As they landed, they came to a stop next to a small church. It was clear there had been a terrible fire, and the building was only recognizable by the steeple in the pile of rubble.
“Oh my,” said Emily, “this looks like it happened within the last few days.”
Emma touched her on the shoulder and pointed. A large group of villagers walked down the street—women, girls, boys, and men—some carrying tools, some driving trucks bearing lumber, some holding baskets of food.
And they were all singing, laughing, almost dancing as they made their way to the burned-out church.
Emily pulled back, afraid of what the people might think when they saw them. Emma took her hand.
“They can’t see us, Emily. To them, we are invisible. We need to see what’s going on here without letting our being here change anything. So what do you think is happening?”
“Well, there’s obviously been a fire and it would seem they have banded together to rebuild the church, but it is strange how happy they are. I mean, this fire must have happened on Christmas and ruined their day. Perhaps someone may have been hurt. Clearly the church is important to them and it is destroyed. And yet, they’re singing and laughing like it’s the best day of the year.”
“And indeed it is,” said Emma. “They understand one of the most important lessons of life.”
“And what’s that?”
Emma smiled at the tiny elf trying to understand such joy amid such devastation and loss. She knelt down and looked her in the eye.
“These people understand that life is a constant series of changes and what has happened, has happened. We cannot change the past. They understand this. They have learned that the key to a good life is to Celebrate what you had, and what you have, not dwell on what you’ve lost.”
Emily smiled. “So by doing that, they hold on to the Christmas Spirit no matter what happens in their lives.”
“It’s as simple as that,” said Emma. “Now where to next?”
Part V: The Joy of Giving
Emily leaned over and plugged the next coordinates into the GPS. “Next stop is…hmm. Wait a minute, let me recheck this.” She opened her laptop, punched the keys, shrugged, then confirmed the entry.
“Something wrong?” asked Emma.
“No, just a little confused. The next location is a Children’s Hospital in Bogota, Columbia. They treat cancer patients there. I’m just a little surprised it would be one of the places where happiness is increasing the Christmas Spirit.”
Emma smiled. “Never underestimate the power of the human heart, my dear.” And with a flick of her wrists, the sleigh rose into the air and headed to South America.
In what seemed like a blink of an eye—of course it would, this is Santa’s sleigh—they found themselves landing on the rooftop of the hospital. Emily sat for a moment in the sleigh, unsure of what she might find.
“Come on, my dear. I think this is going to be very informative for our little investigation.”
The two walked down some stairs, opened a door into a corridor, then followed some nurses into a large open room. Inside, they found about thirty kids, from little ones of four or five to teenagers, all working on cards and small craft projects.
Emily walked over to one of the groups. A teenage girl helped two small children draw pictures and paste them into greeting cards. At another table, two older boys put Christmas ornaments into packages and placed labels on them.
“What are they doing?” Emily asked.
“They’re making gifts for the poor for next year,” said Emma.
“They’re making gifts?” Emily said, her eyes giving away her surprise. “But they are all very sick, why would they be making gifts for others? Shouldn’t they be the ones people send gifts to to cheer them up?”
“Because they also understand about not focusing on things they cannot control,” said Emma. “And they understand another truth about living a happy life.”
Emma put her arm around Emily.
“It’s quite simple, my dear. Something Santa and I and the elves have known for centuries. The joy of gifts is in the giving.”
“It’s that simple, isn’t it?” said Emily.
“It’s that simple. Now let’s leave them to their fun and move on.”
Part VI: A True Friend
Weaving their way through the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, Emma guided the sleigh to their next location; a small town nestled in an isolated valley. Landing in the outskirts of the village, Emma and Emily made their way to an old house in the center of town.
In the house, a small lamp lit the inside of an enclosed porch where an elderly man sat reading a book.
“Maybe I got the location wrong,” Emily said.
“Let’s wait and see,” Emma said
A few moments later, another old man came walking down the road, dragging a small sled loaded with groceries. He walked up to the house and carried the groceries inside.
Neither man spoke, but it was clear this was not anything unusual. A moment later, he emerged from the house, sat on a chair next to the man reading the book and said, “All set, Jim. Everything you need is here.”
“I’m not sure what I would do without you, Tom.”
“I think we both get something out of this. You get your groceries; I get to leave the house so my wife doesn’t give me chores to do.”
Both men laughed, then fell into silence, lost in their thoughts.
Emma took Emily’s hand and said, “Follow me.”
She led Emily into the house and then into a small den off the hallway. Pictures of the two men covered the walls. Some showed them as young boys, but they easily recognized the faces. Others showed them at a college graduation, in military uniforms, standing next to a jet fighter, a lifetime of shared memories.
One wall was covered with images from a wedding. Tom stood smiling next to a beautiful young woman, with Jim standing next to him. There were pictures of kids, pictures of vacations, pictures of a lifetime.
Emily stopped at the last picture. It was Tom’s wife, now much older, and there was a memorial card along the edge of the frame, Mariam Louise Johnson, 1948-2014.
The sight of the picture brought a tear to Emily’s eye. “Sad that his wife passed away. He must be lonely living here by himself.”
Suddenly, laughter burst from the porch. Emily and Emma hurried out to see what was going on. The two men were both laughing their heads off.
“And I still can see the look on Mariam’s face when you put that snake in the tent,” Jim said, wiping his eyes. “I thought she was gonna kill you.”
“I did too,” Tom said. “I didn’t sleep at all that night because I was afraid she would get me back.” He paused a minute, took a deep breath, and sighed. “We’ve had some fun, haven’t we, my friend?”
“Indeed we have, Tom, indeed we have.” Standing up, he patted his friend on the shoulder. “Okay, same time tomorrow? See you then.” Making his way back outside, he pulled the small sled back up the street and disappeared.
Tom went back to reading his book, but the smile remained on his face.
“I think I have this one figured out,” Emily said.
“And what have you learned here?” Emma asked.
“That having a good friend, a genuine friend who is with you through everything that happens in life, is a key to a good life. And friends are a big part of the Christmas Spirit. In other words, It’s better to have one true friend than hundreds of pretend ones.”
Emma smiled. “Once again, simple as that.” Pointing toward the sleigh, she added, “Next.”
Part VII: Challenges
Emily snuggled up against Emma as the sleigh rose into the sky. It’s not that she was cold, it just that Emma made her feel safe. As they made their way to the next stop, Emily thought about what they’d learned so far.
“Emma, can I ask you something?”
“Of course, dear. What is it?”
“Do you think I may look at things the wrong way?”
“What do you mean, dear?”
“Well, in all the places we’ve been, the things that help grow the Christmas Spirit were just so simple. Maybe I’m missing something in the way we analyze these things.”
“Let’s see what else we find, and then we can talk about it more.” Emma pointed to the skyline of Manhattan. “That is one of Santa’s favorite sights. And I’m sure we’ll find something special here.”
The sleigh made its gentle descent into the city, coming to a stop outside a school. The sign read, Watson Institute for Education.
As Emma and Emily made their way up the ramp to the door and then inside the building, something occurred to them. There were no stairs, and all the door handles were lower than normal.
“What kind of school is this?” Emily asked.
Just then, a bell rang. “I think we are about to find out.”
Soon the hallways filled with all manner of motorized wheelchairs. Kids of all ages navigated the hallway, heading to what appeared to be a large auditorium.
Emma and Emily followed.
As the crowd settled in, several students took to the stage, one took the lead.
“Hi everyone, and thanks for coming. As you know, every year we vote to select a new charity for our annual fundraiser. This year, we’ve selected St. Ambrose Hospital.
“If you check your email, you’ll see your assignments for the various events. It’s important we all make our best efforts to insure the success. I’m sure you all know we raised over $100,000 dollars for last year’s charity and our goal this year is $125,000.
“I know with your help we can do it.”
At that, the audience burst into applause, nodding of heads, or just wide smiles.
Emily looked at Emma. “Can you believe they’re organizing a charity? That’s amazing.”
“Not really amazing, Emily. It’s just another of those lessons in life. Our challenges do not define us, but how we face them does.”
Emily nodded. “I’m learning, I have much to learn.”
Emma laughed and pointed toward the door. “Come on, dear. We have places to go and things to see.”
Part VIII: Need in the Midst of Abundance
“Let’s try something different. Let’s go to one of those places where the Christmas spirit is in decline. It might be a useful comparison.”
“That’s brilliant, Emma. Data comparison and using what appear to be conflicting data points can be very…” Emily looked at Emma, who was giving her the same look Santa did when she went off on her technical explanations. “Sorry.”
“No worries, my dear. You’re enthusiastic about your job. That’s why I had Santa assign you there.”
“You picked me for the job?”
Emma smiled. “Remember what I said, Santa is the public face of Christmas. He’s the Ho Ho Ho and delivering presents guy. We’re the brains behind the operation.”
Emily looked through the data and selected a site. “How about here?” she said, turning the laptop to show Emma.
And with a few strokes of the keys, they were off; moments later, landing outside a huge ivy-covered stone wall topped with iron spikes. Emily stood up, trying to peek over the wall, but could see nothing.
“Come on, Emily,” said Emma, “there’s a gate over here.”
As the two stood in front of the monstrous gate, a Rolls Royce limousine with a uniformed driver pulled up. Tinted back windows block their view of the passengers. After a moment, the gate swung open, and the car started up the winding drive.
Emma and Emily hurried behind them for what seemed like ten minutes.
“I didn’t know there were driveways as long as highways,” said Emily.
“I didn’t know there were houses the size of shopping malls,” Emma said, pointing to the colossal mansion before them.
The chauffeur came around to the back and opened the door. A middle-aged woman made her way out of the car and, without a word to the driver, headed up the stairs to the door.
She appeared to be crying.
A moment later, a middle-aged man got out, lit a cigar, and nodded at the driver. “Well, another lovely, wasted evening, eh, Mr. Weatherby?”
“I wouldn’t know, sir,” answered the driver.
“Well, I’ll tell you it was. Bloody auctions and Mrs. Jameson is furious I wouldn’t bid higher for some trash art she wanted. Charity or not, I’m not buying trash.”
“Very good, sir,” said the driver. “Will you be needing the car anymore this evening?
“Only if you’ll run me over. It will be better than listening to her harangue me about being cheap. How does she think we acquired all this is the first place? Not by wasting money on every stupid charity in the world. If it were up to her, she’d give it all away.”
Emma and Emily followed the man inside. At the door, a butler greeted the man and took his coat.
“Is Mrs. Jameson in the study?”
“Yes, she is, sir. She asked not to be disturbed.”
“Well, I own the place so I will disturb whomever I want.”
The man made his way down a long corridor and into the opulent study. The woman sat on a couch, glass in hand, and glared at him.
“Look, I don’t care if the bloody charity can cure cancer. I’m not wasting my money…”
“Our money,” she interrupted.
“We’ll see about that; I have skilled lawyers. Nevertheless, I still cannot see wasting money on trash art.”
“But it is for a worthy cause and we have so much.”
“We have so much because I don’t throw it away. Next time, find some damn charity that doesn’t peddle junk. Now, I am going to bed; you can wallow in self-pity all you want.”
And with that, the man left the room while the woman sat drinking her drink and wiping tears from her eyes.
“Well, this one is troubling,” said Emily. “How can people with so much be so unhappy?”
“Think about it for a moment, my dear. Think about it. What is the most basic premise of the Christmas spirit?”
Emily thought for a long moment, then her face grew bright with a smile. “Sharing, of course. Sharing time with family and friends. Sharing a Christmas meal. Sharing gifts. It’s all about the sharing.
“Once again, so simple an idea,” said Emma. Happiness exists only when shared with others.
Part IX: Age is a State of Mind
Emily tapped her computer screen a few times, then closed the cover and reopened it.
“Problems?” said Emma
“No, just I thought the next site was in Canada, but the screen display is showing me a location in Morocco.” Emily tried to refresh the screen display once more. “What is wrong with this thing?”
“Perhaps we should just go where it says,” Emma smiled. “Could be something there we need to see.”
With that, Emma looked at the screen display, punched the numbers into the GPS and in a flash they were landing in a dusty field outside a small village in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains.
Two old men sat at a table outside a small café sipping coffee and playing the card game called Ronda. As one man dealt, the other rubbed his wrinkled arthritic hands.
“Much pain today, Mohammed?” said the other man as he shuffled the cards
The man shrugged. “Like always, Youssef. All those days in the fields and tending the goats took their toll.”
“We worked hard then,” said Youssef. “Long days in the scorching sun and frosty nights in the winters. But coming home to our wives made it all worthwhile. It’s hard to believe they’ve both been gone over ten years.”
Mohammed nodded. “Seems like just yesterday we were playing with the grandchildren and watching them grow into fine men and women.” He paused a moment. “By the way, I heard Ayoub passed away, praise Allah the merciful, he was just ninety-five.”
“Ninety-five, such a young man to go so soon,” said Youssef, as a smile broke out on his face.
Mohammed laughed. “I know, ninety-five for me seems like years ago.”
“It was two years ago, Mohammed. Are you losing your mind?”
“I have lost nothing, my friend,” slowly rising from the chair, “I can still beat you in arm wrestling any day.”
“Hah, I’d like to see that!”
Mohammed’s eyes narrowed. He reached over, knocking the cards from the table. “Well then, let’s see who the better man is, shall we?”
Youssef rubbed his wrists and stretched his arms, then placed his right elbow on the table. “Come on, old man. Let me embarrass you once again as I did last year.”
“Old man? Who you calling an old man? What are you, two days younger than me? And a lot uglier.”
With that, the two men locked wrists and began the battle. Soon, a crowd of people gathered around. They cheered the men on, yet seemed to favor neither one.
After a few moments of back and forth, grunts and groans, arms tipping one way then the other, the two men broke into wide smiles.
“I think we have drawn a crowd, my friend,” said Mohammed.
“We have. They always want to see the two strongest and most handsome men in the village compete. Plus,” he winked, “the girls all love us.”
Two women stood just outside the circle of people, shaking their heads as they watched the men.
“Do they do this every day?” one said.
“They’ve been doing this every day for years,” answered the other. “My great grandfather will never stop competing until the day he dies. At least today they only arm wrestled. Two weeks ago, they had a horse race into the desert and we thought they were both gone. Then they came riding back together, laughing and joking. They almost killed the horses; the two of them were fine.”
Emma and Emily stood listening to the women and taking in the scene.
“You know, Emily, your little computer sent us here for a good reason. Sometimes, people think the spirit of Christmas is just for the young when it is for the young at heart as well.”
Emily smiled, “One of the most important things people can do to hold onto the Christmas spirit is to keep it even after they are no longer children. But how can one do that? They have responsibilities as they grow older.”
Emma put her hand on Emily’s shoulder. “Remember this always, my precious young one. Age is a state of mind.”
Part X: Remember the past, look forward to the future, live in the moment
Rising over the lower foothills, Emma steered the sleigh toward the heights of the High Atlas Mountains.
“Wouldn’t it be better to go around them?” asked Emily. “They look kind of tall.”
“Where’s the fun in that? And if you think they’re high… well… just wait. People once believed these mountains held up the sky.”
“Indeed, they did. There are many such legends in history. When you think about it, we’re investigating one of those legends… except ours isn’t a legend at all, is it?” Emma smiled, then let the GPS direct them to the next stop.
Emily read from the sign on the front of the building, “Walsh Center for Geriatric Care.” She turned to Emma, “What’s geriatric?”
“It means old. This is a nursing home for the elderly.”
“Hmm, why do you think we’ve been sent here?”
“What say we pop in and find out?” Emma led the way through the door and into a lobby area. Several people—some in wheelchairs, some with canes, some just shuffling along with their hand on the wall—made their way into what looked like a central meeting room.
In front of the room, a DJ played music Emily had never heard before. Some guy named Frank Sinatra was singing a song called My Way. Back in one corner, a few couples stood close together, dancing.
As the song ended, one gentleman stood and walked to the front of the room. He took the microphone from the DJ, then waited for the room to quiet.
“Okay, a couple of announcements. First, as you know, we lost two more friends over the past few days. I’ve received notes from their families about how touched they were by the baskets of letters we sent. So thanks to everyone for doing that.
“Next month, they will be a family day open house. Invite as many family members as you like. Some of us here don’t have many members left, so let’s share and get a big crowd here to make everyone remember we are all family.”
He paused a moment, pointing at a woman in the front row. “Betty has a few things to add.” He held out the microphone for her.
Betty rolled to the front of the room.
“Thanks, Bert. Now, for those of you interested, we have an outing planned for this summer to the beach. All I need is a list of names for those who are interested, and we’ll take care of all the special arrangements. Our bake sale was so successful this year we even have enough left over to double our donation to the Homeless Shelter. Now, how about we liven it up a bit with some more music and dancing?”
The group broke out into a round of applause and the sounds of Louis Armstrong singing “What a Wonderful World” brought more couples to the dance floor.
Emma tapped Emily on the shoulder, tilting her head for her to follow her back to the sleigh.
“So, what do you think?” she asked.
Emily looked up at her. “Well, I’ll tell you one thing. For a place full of old people, they certainly have a lot of life in them. I mean, dancing, planning trips, running bake sales to raise money. They have more energy than I do.”
Emma laughed. “And you know what else they have?”
“Another simple one that is key to a happy life and keeping the spirit of Christmas thriving.”
“So?” Emily said. “Aren’t you going to tell me?”
“If you think about it, you’ll figure it out.”
Emily stood next to the sleigh, looking back at the building. The sounds of more music playing and people laughing drifted to her ears. “They love to remember, don’t they? But they also have fun in their lives no matter what. And they still look forward to tomorrow…”
“There you have it, Emily. Their secret is quite simple. Like the two friends in Morocco, they know that age is a state of mind and they Remember the past, look forward to the future, live in the moment.”
Part XI: One of the Few Things Worth Remembering
“Cumberland? Where is Cumberland?” asked Emily.
“it’s a town in Rhode Island, the smallest state,” Emma. “I wonder what we’ll find there?”
The sleigh slowed on the approach into the town, taking them on a circular route around Diamond Hill, over the reservoir, until finally descending into the parking lot of a small pub on Mendon Rd. called McT’s.
“Why are we here?” asked Emily.
“I don’t know, but I know how to find out.” Emma jumped from the sleigh and motioned for Emily to follow. As they got closer to the door, a cacophony of voices greeted them. Laughter mixed with the conversation while music played in the background and groups of people gathered at the various tables or stood at the bar.
The conversations were a varied lot.
“Hey, remember the time we let the goose go in the gym and the janitor had to corner it with a trash barrel?”
“What ever happened to Kevin T? I heard he moved to Australia.”
“How is your mother? I haven’t seen her since we went to the prom and she dropped us off.”
“Can you believe it’s been forty-seven years since we graduated… CHS ’74? Where does the time go?”
Emma tapped Emily on the shoulder, and they headed back out into the parking lot. “Notice anything about the cars here?” she asked.
Emily looked around and shrugged. “They’re just cars.”
Emily looked at all the cars, seeing nothing that jumped out at her, but then it hit her. The license plates. They were from all over the country. Some as far away as California or Texas. Some were clearly rental cars driven by people from who knows where.
“They’re from all over. Some of these people traveled here from far away.”
“And why do you think that is?”
“I suppose to see friends and family. To revisit a place important to them.”
“That’s exactly it, my dear. You see, the world is full of things that will catch your eye, but only a few will catch your heart. This town has a bit of magic to it. It embeds itself within those who grew up here and plays a big part in making them what they are.” Emma smiled at her little friend. “For most of them, it will always be home. And do you know why?”
Emily thought for a moment. “Well, since this little quest of ours has been about finding the spark that keeps the Christmas Spirit alive, I suppose it is about remembering the important things in our lives and somehow this town is… ahh… worth remembering?”
Emma nodded. “You’ve discovered another important secret about the Christmas Spirit. It is One of the Few Things Worth Remembering…”
Part XII: Hope may be invisible, but it is always with us
Emma sat back in the sleigh, letting the reins go so the reindeer could browse a bit. “So, Emily, what do you think about picking one more place and then heading back?”
“Well, we have gathered quite a bit of information that I can use to build a report for Santa. I think it’s enough. But I’m worried. Suppose we can’t save the Spirit of Christmas, then what?”
“Hand me your laptop. I want to show you one place you might not have noticed in all your data.”
Emma took the computer, looked through a few things, then handed it back. “I think I have just the place to go.” And with the coordinates plugged into the GPS, Emma grabbed the reins and they were off.
While every one of their trips had been quick, this one was in less than a blink of the eye. Emily looked over the edge of the sleigh as they settled onto the roof of Hasbro Children’s Hospital.
“I know this place is wonderful, but many of the kids here are very ill. It’s kind of sad that this happens to them. What will we find here that we don’t already know?”
Emma smiled. “Let’s go see for ourselves if there really are miracles here.”
Wandering through the corridors, they glanced into various rooms. Kids of all ages with all sorts of medical challenges seemed to be everywhere.
“I never realized how many children need this place,” said Emily.
“This and all the hospitals like it… and there is a need for more,” Emma said.
As they turned down the hallway, they came to the Neonatal ICU. Inside, there were babies who seemed almost too small to be real. Parents sat next to many of the covered beds, often holding on to the tiniest of fingers.
Nurses checked the readouts of the machines keeping the babies alive. Doctors drifted in and out, conferring with the nurses. The sounds and sights brought a tear to Emily’s eyes.
“I know this may sound awful,” sobbed Emily, “but it would seem this is the last place we can find an answer to saving the Christmas spirit.”
Emma pulled her tight to her. “On the contrary my dear, this is a place where we have the best chance of saving it.”
Emily wiped the tear from her cheek. “But how, it seems so sad here.”
“It would be, except this place, of all the places in the world, offers the one thing every child, every person, needs. Whether they are ill and in the hospital or dealing with some other troubles in their lives… Hope.”
A smile grew wide on Emily’s face. “Of course, hope. Hope may be invisible, but it is always with us.”
The Day After Christmas: The Last Secret
Climbing back aboard the sleigh, Emily sat quietly, looking up at all the stars.
“So what have we learned?” asked Emma.
Emily remained silent for a long moment, gathering her thoughts. “Well, it would seem the real secret to keeping the spirit of Christmas is simple. Each place we went taught us something. Here’s what I learned.”
Celebrate what you had, and what you have, don’t focus on what you’ve lost
The joy of gifts is in the giving.
Better to have one real friend than hundreds of pretend ones.
Our challenges do not define us, but how we face them does
Happiness exists only when it is shared with others
Age is a state of mind
Remember the past, look forward to the future, live in the moment
Be one of the few things worth remembering
Hope may be invisible, but it is always with us
“All of that is true, my dear. But there is one more thing to learn.” She picked up the reins, then, with a wink of her eye that reminded Emily of Santa, said, “You might want to hold on.” And with that, the sleigh rocketed straight into the sky… and kept going. At about 50,000 thousand feet, they released the reindeer.
“Ah, don’t we need them to fly?” Emily asked.
“Most of the time. We will come back for them later. They like being free once in a while. We’ve made some modern additions to the sleigh… we just haven’t told Santa yet.” Emma uncovered a secret compartment. “Let’s keep this part of the trip to ourselves, okay?” She winked, then pushed a black button.
The sleigh rocketed above the earth so far that the world appeared a shiny blue marble in the blackness of space.
“Tell me what you see, Emily.”
Emily glanced at Emma, then relaxed her death grip on the sleigh. “Is that the Earth?”
“It is indeed, and what do you see?”
“Well, I see the oceans and the continents and clouds.”
“Now what is it you don’t see?”
“Don’t see? I don’t understand, Emma. What do you mean?”
“Do you see borders, or boundaries, or fences? Do you see tribes, or countries, or races?”
“No, of course not.”
That’s because all of that is artificial. All fabricated. None of it matters when you look at it from this perspective. We are all people of earth on a small blue marble in a universe full of wonder and magic.”
“So all those things we learned really are everywhere if we just know how to look for them?”
“That’s it, Emily. When it comes to the spirit of Christmas, often we miss the most important aspect. You see, my dear, if you focus on what is wrong you miss all the good in the world. And with magical things like the Christmas Spirit, There are some things in the universe that cannot be measured, they have to be experienced.
“Everyone leads different lives. Sometimes it is full of joy, sometimes sorrow, but as long as we remember to hold on to hope, there is always tomorrow for dreams to come true. Now why don’t you take another look at your data there and tell me what you see.”
Emily opened her laptop, and green dots covered the map. There were still a few red dots, and she knew now that there always would be, but they would come and go in the face of hope.
“What say we head back to Christmas Town and let everybody know we solved the problem,” said Emma. “Oh, and one more thing.”
“Let’s let Santa believe the whole thing was his idea. I like to let him believe he’s in charge.”
Emily laughed. “Okay, Emma, this will be our little secret.”
And with that, they gathered up the reindeer and flew back home, where Emily would let Santa give everyone the good news.
Thus ends the story of The Day After Christmas. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little jaunt into my imagination and that your Christmas or Hanukkah or whatever it is you celebrate is everything you want it to be.
Merry Christmas 2021, Joe Broadmeadow
P.S. Take a moment to read this last thought before you drift off to sleep and dream of sugarplums…you’ll be rewarded at the end with another cute picture of my grandson!
Thought on this Christmas Eve (reprinted from 2017)
I often look back on some of the things I’ve written. Sometimes, I cringe at what I released into the wild, and then sometimes I think, you know, not half bad, Joe, not half bad… And so with that in mind, on this Christmas Eve 2021, the 65th time I’ve experienced this magical day, I repost something I wrote several years ago, on Christmas Eve, 2017. I hope you find it at least not half bad…
On September 21, 1897, the editor of New York’s Sun newspaper captured the spirit of Christmas with these words,
“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus…”
Seven words with an unanticipated longevity to the truth they proclaimed. The answer to a question from an 8-year-old girl.
This 8-year-old girl, facing life’s reality, sort reassurance from the authority of a newspaper. Imagine the quandary facing that editor, tell the truth or chip away at innocence?
He demonstrated great wisdom. He told the truth. A truth that holds to this day.
“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus…”
This is a spirit different than religious traditions. It is a non-denominational phenomenon crossing cultural boundaries and containing a powerful message.
It is easy to lose hope in this world. One begins to wonder if evolution has slowed when it comes to the humanness of humankind.
Or given up on us entirely.
Despite this I say, now more than ever, yes there is a Santa Claus. Even among those who hold no such traditions. The spirit lives in the commonality of our being human.
All we need is a willingness to give for the sake of giving. To seek our happiness by making others happy.
We can share the experience of watching the wonder in the eyes of a small child. See the spark of the spirit come alive and grow within them. Embrace the comfort of old friendships, the warmth of family, or just the companionship of a good dog (but never a cat…okay, a cat as well.)
We all yearn to make others happy and feel the satisfaction of bringing joy to those we love. Or those we are yet to meet.
We can find solace in those same words; Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.
It is within us all. All we need do is open our minds.
So, no matter where your tradition comes from. Be it a generous caring man of a different era, proclaimed a Saint, and turned into the legend of Santa Claus. Or a celebration of another tradition with equal import to your memories. Whatever you celebrate, in this Christmas season and from here on, I wish for you;
To have no regrets except for things you didn’t do.
To never to be afraid of failing at anything, except failing to try.
To remember the past, but waste no time on it.
To look forward to the future, but understand you cannot control it.
To hold onto hope, no matter what.
To embrace your moments in this life, once past they can never be reclaimed.
To find what fills your heart with smiles and have it grow, like the Grinch’s, three sizes this day.
To find that childlike spirit long buried by the cares of the real world.
To let the shackles of growing up fall away.
To dance like Snoopy to the music of Schroeder.
To understand, like Linus, it is the spirit that matters.
To know there is always tomorrow for dreams to come true. Even on your last day on this earth, the dreams of those we leave behind live on.
To work for a future of a world filled with laughter.
To understand it is through our differences we share the commonality of being human.
To be a child again, if but for one moment. To hear the far-off sounds of jingling bells. To see a faint red light of a magical reindeer approaching in the cold winter sky. To feel the excitement at the footsteps of a jolly old man on the roof of your memories.
The best part of the Spirit of Christmas is it is within our power to keep it well all the rest of our days.
Happy Christmas to all and to all a lifetime of good nights!